Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers arrived on the iPad late last week. While I do not own an iPad, the news piqued my interest in the world’s most popular card game once again. I will admit that I have played Magic: the Gathering on and off since I was 13, mostly off as I remain easily distracted by other games and haven’t been convinced to spend that much money on cards. However, I did have quite a bit of fun playing the previous incarnations of Duels of the Planeswalkers. So how hard could it be to transfer all that practice in the virtual version of the game to the tabletop environment?
Seeing that the pre-release for the next Core set for Magic (imaginatively titled Magic 2015 or M15) was being held over the weekend, I grabbed a friend, Sara, who is a newbie as the control subject for this experiment.
For the uninitiated, Magic sets are usually released with small events held about a week before it is officially sold in stores. These events are run by individual shops, and are an opportunity for players to get together and experience the new cards together. It is a reasonably level playing field as players will have to build decks from random packs that are provided that day.
Knowing practically nothing about the card pool for M15, I decided to take the Red pre-release pack because I heard the special promo card was a dragon; and you can’t go wrong with dragons. Sara also chose the Red pack because she once saw a red deck being played.
With a limited amount of time to build a deck from the contents of my pack, I resolved to throw in as many red creatures as I had in and then worry about filling out the rest. Some of the regular Magic players helpfully suggested that 17 lands would be the optimal number for building an efficient deck; so 17 lands ended up in my deck. They ended up being very right, as I didn’t run into any problems of not having enough mana throughout the day.
The experience is somewhat similar to the sealed deck format in the Magic computer games. Except that it is far more visceral. The feel of the cards in your hands, and the tearing open of the booster packs made the whole thing far more satisfying. It might be the tactile feel of the physical product, or it might be the shouting in the background when someone opens a particularly good card.
One thing to note about the community is how willing they were to sit down with new players and teach them, even at the expense of time building their own pre-release decks.
All my computer game practice helped as I somehow pulled off a 2 – 0 win in the first round. Which was surprising considering my lack of sealed deck experience. The plan to destroy my own Scuttling Doom Engine with a Torch Fiend proved to be the winning move, and earned me the label of terrorist for the rest of the event.
My companion didn’t fare as well, possibly due to her focusing on annoying people instead of actual victory. Being the only girl at the event probably made her a little shy, but thankfully there were some extremely friendly players who at least provided the newbie an opportunity to learn something. It was a relief to see girls being welcomed into the community, as opposed to the terrible reputation that surrounds Magic players.
I met another returning player in the second round, one who hasn’t been as disconnected from the game as I have. He apparently turns up for pre-release events and plays mainly in the casual Magic formats. Our match ended rather quickly as he didn’t see enough lands through both games, while I managed another combo with Ajani’s Pridemate and a Soulmender. Thankfully it was a small crowd that day and I only had one more round to ride my good fortune into the ground. Which immediately happened as I was paired against an opponent who was actually trying to win the event instead of mess around and have fun. He was nice enough in person, but there was no quarter given as he proceeded to show me how competitive Magic is played.
My final round thrashing showed that while he Duels of the Planeswalkers computer game is a great simulation of playing Magic, it is just a simulation. Like how playing Flight Simulator is not the same as flying a real plane. There is nothing quite like meeting like-minded people for a game or two. The people are friendly, and the game is enjoyable.
Most importantly, practicing on Duels of the Planeswalkers is a perfectly valid way of avoiding being schooled at the real thing; at least when not dealing at the competitive level. I will probably avoid competitions for now, although alternative casual formats like Commander and Draft are beginning to look very interesting at this point. I don’t have the time to sink into practicing for tournaments, and something casual will definitely be easier to introduce to friends. Overall, I have no regrets about this experiment (aside from being unable to attack with my Siege Dragon even once) and will definitely be back for more.